Undervalued, Unseen, and Unpaid: The Other Gender Wealth Gap

In the United States and peer nations, where the value of a person is determined primarily –if not solely- by their wealth, the subordinate status of women could not be more apparent. The myth that wealth comes to anyone willing to work hard enough disintegrates when the undervalued, unseen, and unpaid work of women is considered. Women doing the same work as men are paid less across the board1-4. Though the size of the gender pay gap varies, it exists in all countries5-7 and across all employment sectors8, 9. The gender wage gap exists in academia10, across all education levels11, in the public and private sector12, for salaried as well as hourly workers, for full and part-time employees13, and for lower paying and highly paid professions14, 15. Although unions are effective at reducing pay inequality, union workers face a gender wage gap16, nonetheless.

These disparities can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime of work17. Yet the wage gap is only part of the entire gender wealth gap. The second factor is the feminization and consequent devaluation of certain types of labor, such as care taking or domestic work. It is no coincidence these jobs and the people doing them are devalued, both socially and finanically18-20. Men doing work in fields that are stereotypically feminized are habitually ridiculed, shamed, or even punished for doing ‘women’s work’. To be feminized is to forfeit an important part of the masculine identity: an identity perceived as inherently superior to femininity and all things associated with it. However, these men still make more than women in the same field21,22, for a variety of social and structural reasons, including the fact that work done by women is seen as less valuable, no matter the type of work that it is. Racism similarly degrades perceived value of labor and widens the wealth gap, and women of color face both forms of discrimination23, 24.

The final component of the gender wealth gap is women being burdened with a disproportionate amount of unpaid labor. When all work is tallied, women simply work more and earn less25. On average, women in the US do almost twice as much unpaid work26, and 2.5 times more household and care work than men27, 28. It is difficult to overstate the significance and magnitude of this unpaid labor, some estimates put it at 30-40%29 of total goods and services produced. A recent study found working single mothers, on average, work 98 HOURS per week, when all work is accounted for30. This is a14-hour day, 7 days a week. At minimum wage, this amounts to almost $16K in lost wages annually!

The disproportionate burden of unpaid work is one reason mothers face a parenthood ‘penalty’, whereas men tend to earn more after having children31. Mothers also face systemic discrimination, while doing more unpaid work, they will simultaneously find themselves earning less and being discriminated against at their paying jobs. One study found mothers were less likely to be hired, were paid less and less likely to be promoted if hired, were viewed as less competent, and held to higher standards, whereas the opposite was true for fathers32. Care taking work: such as childcare and eldercare, is also shouldered primarily by women-with daughters spending more than twice as much time taking care of their elderly parents than sons33. In addition to being unpaid and taking time away that could be used to do paid work, care taking often costs money in and of itself34. Women are likewise burdened with an unequal amount of emotional labor35. When value is determined by what can be exploited for profit, and ‘masculine’ aloofness is valued over the stereotypical ‘feminine’ virtue of empathy and emotional intelligence, emotional labor is not considered worthwhile labor, or even labor at all.

Capitalism and patriarchy are co-dependent systems of exploitation.  Sexism is a devastatingly effective means to divide the working class against itself and rob workers of the full value of their labor. Transitioning to socialism is one of the most important steps we can take towards gender equality, but it is not a panacea that will automatically destroy all forms of ignorance, prejudice, and bigotry. Economic liberation should be our first step towards an egalitarian, intersectional, feminist society, but it cannot be our last. Sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, ableism, and the like are more than just economic obstacles. Economic and social changes are needed to build a post-capitalist society. Our dream is a system without gendered stereotypes about labor, where all work is valued, and judged by its own merits; a socialist feminist society.


**Special thanks to Arianna N for coming up with the concept for this article**

1 The gender wage gap: https://journals.aom.org/doi/abs/10.5465/AMP.2007.24286161

2 Gender wage gap basics: https://www.payscale.com/data/gender-pay-gap

3 Gender wage gap overview: https://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/

4 Interactive gender wage gap tools: https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/genderwagegap/

5 Gender pay gap varies by country, but exists in all countries: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2117457

6 Gender wage gaps in the US and other countries: https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.14.4.75

7 Thirty-country study on gender wage gap:


8 Gender pay gap exists regardless of employment sector: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12122-008-9050-5

9 Gender pay disparities broken down by job type http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat39.pdf

10 20% wage gap in academia: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11162-004-4137-1

11 Gender wage gap exists at all education levels https://www.epi.org/publication/women-cant-educate-their-way-out-of-the-gender-wage-gap/

12 Gender wage gap exists in both public and private sectors: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12122-008-9050-5

13 Gender wage gap “affects full‐ and part‐time workers and appears within racial/ethnic groups, educational levels, and occupations, and across countries.” https://spssi.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1530-2415.2003.00016.x

14 Gender pay gap exists in low and high paying jobs: https://1gyhoq479ufd3yna29x7ubjn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/Women_FR_Web.pdf

15 Gender gap even in highly paid jobs: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/upshot/the-pay-gap-is-because-of-gender-not-jobs.html?_r=0

16 Gender wage gap smaller for union jobs:


17 Gender pay gap costs between $530-800K over a lifetime of work: www.epi.org/publication/what-is-the-gender-pay-gap-and-is-it-real/#epi-toc-5

18 Women’s work valued less: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/04/the-simple-reason-for-the-gender-pay-gap-work-done-by-women-is-still-valued-less/

19 More women in an occupation leads to wage devaluation: https://academic.oup.com/sf/article/88/2/865/2235342

20 When women enter a field previously dominated by men, pay drops: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/upshot/as-women-take-over-a-male-dominated-field-the-pay-drops.html?_r=0

21 Male nurses make $6K more: https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2018/06/25/nurse-salary

22 Male teachers make more, valued more: https://nces.ed.gov/pubs/web/95829.asp

23 Pay degradation due to race, gender: https://academic.oup.com/socpro/article/50/1/14/2277567

24 Women of color face greater pay gap challenges https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/women-in-the-workplace-2017

25Women work more hours than men when all work is tallied: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/11/do-women-work-longer-hours-than-men/

26 Women do twice the amount of unpaid work as men in the US: https://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=54757

27 Women do 2.5 times more household and care work than men: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/csw61/redistribute-unpaid-work

28 Women more than twice as likely to perform housework, are the majority of those giving elder care: https://www.dol.gov/wb/media/gender_wage_gap.pdf

29 Unpaid labor = 30-40% all goods and services produced: http://shriverreport.org/unpaid-and-undervalued-care-work-keeps-women-on-the-brink/

30 Working mothers work 98 hours per week: https://abc7.com/family/study-average-working-mom-works-98-hours-a-week/2269126/

31 Childhood penalty for women, benefit for men: http://shriverreport.org/unpaid-and-undervalued-care-work-keeps-women-on-the-brink/

32 Mothers less likely to be hired, promoted, are paid less, viewed as less competent, and held to higher standards, opposite for fathers: http://gap.hks.harvard.edu/getting-job-there-motherhood-penalty#findings

33 Daughters spend twice as much time giving care to their elders than sons https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0003122416686521

34 Responsibilities and costs for eldercare disproportionately fall to women https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolynrosenblatt/2013/05/09/is-caring-for-aging-parents-unfair-to-women/#6eb022263e1c

35 Women burdened with majority of emotional labor https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/08/women-gender-roles-sexism-emotional-labor-feminism


Stephanie Cholensky

is currently a national committee member of the SPUSA, and works as a biochemist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She started off as a YPSL member in 2001 and has been an active member in good standing of the Socialist Party USA, serving on the National Executive Committee of YPSL, the National Committee and National Action Committee of the SPUSA, the Editorial Board of Socialist Women, on the Women’s Commission, and helped charter locals in two states.

Leave a Reply

Sharing is Caring